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Tondelli, Pier Vittorio (1955-1991)  
 
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The position of Pier Vittorio Tondelli within the Italian literary canon is an unusually central one for a gay novelist: studies of his work abound; his collected works are included in the publisher Bompiani's "classic" series; his novels remain in print and sell steadily; and he continues to influence the younger generation of Italian writers and Italian popular culture.

Yet very little critical commentary has been devoted to the representation of homosexuality and sexual difference in Tondelli's novels. The queerest thing about Tondelli studies is that they are frequently authored by Catholic intellectuals, such as Fulvio Panzeri, a close friend of Tondelli's and his testamentary executor, and the Jesuit scholar Antonio Spadaro. These critics ignore or, at best, minimize the theme of homosexuality in Tondelli's oeuvre. They emphasize instead the universality and implicit religiosity and Christianity of the works.

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This critical construction builds on Tondelli's return to his Catholic faith during the last months of his life. (In contrast, many gay critics have been angered by Tondelli's non-militant way of living his homosexuality in the last phase of his life, as well as by his silence about AIDS, complications from which he died in 1991.)

Countering the critical tradition that ignores the homosexual themes in Tondelli's novels and short stories, however, are the author's own words. In a 1983 article for the Italian gay and lesbian monthly Babilonia, he wrote: "I believe that the gay experience is the only one which recognizes--in the desolated panorama of youngsters' wishes--a common imaginative and metaphoric language, a common unwillingness to conform, a common claim to liberate desire . . . ."

Tondelli was born in Correggio, near Reggio Emilia, on September 14, 1955. After attending the local grammar school, he moved to Bologna in the 1970s, where he enrolled in the university in its Department of Art, Music, and Drama. He graduated with a dissertation on "Epistolary Literature and the Theory of the Novel."

During his university years he wrote his first book, Altri Libertini ("Other Libertines"), which was published in 1980. The volume is a collection of short stories about Tondelli's "homeland and its generational myths," narrated in a style tending to reproduce the spoken idiom of the characters.

Only twenty days after its release, the judiciary ordered the seizure of all copies of Altri Libertini. Magistrates accused Tondelli of obscenity. What the censors found most shocking were the explicit portrayal of homosexual life (as in the short story "Viaggio") and, above all, a scene in the short story "Postoristoro" ("Railway Snack Bar"), where a junkie is given a drug injection in his penis. Tondelli was eventually acquitted of the charge of obscenity.

After the success of his first book, Tondelli began to contribute articles to newspapers and magazines; and, in 1982, he published his autobiographical novel PaoPao. The title means "Picchetto Armato Ordinario" (Ordinary Armed Picket) and is sometimes translated Guard Duty. The novel is an ironic and irreverent account of twelve months of military service (which, until the late 1990s, was compulsory in Italy).

The allegedly "macho" institution of the Army is shown in the book as offering a continuous opportunity for homosexual romance and for an alternative lifestyle based on smoking marijuana and drinking cheap red wine. The novel continues Tondelli's experimental quest for a written literary language that is able to reproduce the spontaneity of a spoken language, what the novelist referred to as "emotional language."

Tondelli's next novel Rimini (1985), named after the popular seaside resort on the northeastern coast of Italy, marked a break from his experimental phase and shifted his fiction towards a more structured and less autobiographical plot. The novel became an instant bestseller, although reviews were not uniformly favorable, as many critics accused Tondelli of having left behind the rich literary experimentation of his first two books for a more commercial form of writing.

The novel was also at the center of another scandal: it was scheduled to be launched during the popular Sunday afternoon television show Domenica In, but the interview with Tondelli was cancelled at the last minute due to the homosexual content of one of the novel's subplots.

Although its critical reception was not enthusiastically favorable, Rimini is actually a complex, polyphonic novel in which Tondelli interweaves the stories of a dozen different characters and mixes several literary genres and themes, including noir, romance, and political intrigue.

In 1986 Tondelli moved to Milan and edited collections of short stories written by young writers. In the same year he published a private book addressed to his closer friends: Biglietti Agli Amici ("Cards for My Friends"). The book was published in a limited edition and was not sold in bookshops until after Tondelli's death.

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